HMCS Vancouver deck officer, Lt. Jeff Brooker, observes the launch of a Hammerhead remotely controlled surface target during RIMPAC 2018.                                Photo by Lt. Tony Wright, HMCS Vancouver public affairs officer

HMCS Vancouver deck officer, Lt. Jeff Brooker, observes the launch of a Hammerhead remotely controlled surface target during RIMPAC 2018. Photo by Lt. Tony Wright, HMCS Vancouver public affairs officer

Canadian military gains valuable disaster experience at RIMPAC

Naval, air force and army personnel practise war activities, humanitarian relief

The biennial RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) exercise, currently happening in and off Hawaii and San Diego, allows participating countries’ militaries to hone their critical incident combat and interdiction skills.

But casual observers may not realize that the more than 1,000 Canadian naval, air force and army personnel taking part in this six-week operation – with counterparts from the U.S., Australia and 22 other countries – are also gaining valuable expertise in dealing with post-disaster humanitarian efforts.

Esquimalt-based Rear Admiral Bob Auchterlonie, whose “day job” is commander of Maritime Forces Pacific, is serving as deputy commander for the combined task force at RIMPAC 2018, second only to U.S. Vice Admiral John Alexander among the overall command.

Auchterlonie said exercises simulating a large-scale earthquake and tsunami not only train the various Pacific Rim military forces to respond with everything from medical treatment of survivors to the airlifting of food, fuel, water and other supplies for affected nations, they help hone the localized emergency management plans back home.

“We can tie it back to our own jobs,” he said of relief efforts the navy and other Canadian military would be tasked with if a major earthquake happened in Greater Victoria or elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, for example. “We do the Great BC Shakeout in the fall, and we bring these lessons back from this exercise.”

The crew of HMCS Vancouver, which is taking part in RIMPAC 2018, gained first-hand experience in lending an international hand when a major earthquake shook New Zealand’s South Island just north of Christchurch in 2016.

Members of 2nd Battalion, Royal 22e RĂ©giment administer care to a simulated civilian casualty of an improvised explosive device during Infantry Immersion Training at the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, July 11. Photo by Ordinary Seaman Justin Spinello/Canadian Armed Forces Imagery

”HMCS Vancouver was deployed off New Zealand at the time, so Canada provided one of the first units on scene supporting that effort,” Auchterlonie said, noting that Canada is a reliable defence and support partner in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

While much of its efforts in the region have focused on helping patrol trade routes and the interdiction of drug and human smuggling activities, he said the ability of our forces to help in a humanitarian crisis is valued by other countries. “Wherever we are, we can be ready to help folks.”

Largely due to its co-ordinated initiatives, Canada’s military leadership has long-established relationships with RIMPAC co-founders the U.S. and Australia. But with the roster for this multi-pronged exercise now at an all-time high of 25 countries, connections are being made with military leaders from such countries as Japan, China and even Chile, whose Commodore Pablo Niemann gives a non-founding country its first RIMPAC maritime section commander.

“When things happen around the globe, there’s a lot of interactivity with things,” Auchterlonie said of the importance of international relations to military or humanitarian efforts. “It’s hard to say ‘no’ to a friend, and that’s one of the keys to [RIMPAC] … When I pick up the phone, I’m talking to someone I know at the other end of the line.”

Canadian ships joining HMCS Vancouver in maritime section exercises in and around Hawaii are HMCS Ottawa and interim oiler/supply ship MV Asterix, while two Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels Yellowknife and Whitehorse are engaged in exercises off San Diego. Members of the Royal Canadian Air Force and Canadian Army round out the contingent from this country.

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